Film Review – The House
The House (2022) is a truly unique and bizarre viewing experience. Featuring beautifully tactile stop motion animation, the film is an anthology of three separate stories all taking place at different points in time, starring different animal life forms, and all centered around one single house. The overall effect is surreal and existential. Each section starts within a reasonably understandable framework, but by the end dives headfirst into an otherworld of strange, horrific, and fascinating events. Not since I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) has Netflix backed such a peculiar undertaking, but by doing so has given viewers an opportunity to see something of its own kind.
The first thing to notice is the animation style. While the stop-motion effects may appear familiar to us, the environments are created not with clay but with cloth and fabric. The house and the characters feel woven – everything looks as if stitched together, with a fuzziness outlining surfaces. Even skin has a soft, textile look. The house itself is constructed with a focus on the details. From the floorboards to the wallpaper, cabinets, and furniture, the set design is remarkably lifelike. When we travel from one time to another, the house is redesigned to fit with the era. Although this all takes place in a movie, the visuals are so tangible that we can almost touch it.
All three parts are written by Enda Walsh, who narrows his attention on the idea of what “home” means. Each character we encounter has a specific relationship with the titular house, whether they want to live in, save it, or escape from it. Although the narrative may be intentionally dreamlike, the allegory is clear. Our identities are often tied to the homes we live in. There is a natural bond we have with our homes – our memories relate to them in both good and bad ways. Leaving one to move to another is a life-altering change, one that may be difficult to adjust to. I grew up in a military family and moved several times in my youth. Going someplace new can feel like traveling to a distant planet, and it is that aspect that drew me into the film.
Chapter 1 is co-directed by Emma De Swaef and Marc James Roels. This opening act is the most unnerving of the three, in which we find an impoverished human family from the 1800s being gifted the house from a mysterious donor. Raymond (Matthew Goode) and his wife Penelope (Claudie Blakley) are immediately seduced by the lavish furniture and endless stock of food, but their daughter Mabel (Mia Goth) is not so convinced. Seeing zombie-like carpenters still working on the house has gotten Mabel on edge, and her concern shifts to worry as the rooms, staircases, and hallways transform into a maze of wrong turns and dead ends.
De Swaef and Roels direct Chapter 1 like an increasing nightmare, inserting ghostly images throughout. Sometimes they’ll superimpose a face on top of what we see, intimating that there is a more powerful force at play. The other two chapters are not nearly as horrific but are equal in tension. Niki Lindroth von Bahr directs Chapter 2, where a humanoid mouse (Jarvis Cocker) is introduced as a real estate developer. Taking place in the present time, “The Developer” has made it his mission to fix up the house to be sold. The Developer has made selling the house such a priority that he is willing to risk his own health to rid the place of the bugs and cockroaches that infest it. But just as he thinks he has the place ready for market, he is visited by a strange couple (Yvonne Lombard, Sven Wollter). The pair creepily say they are interested in the house yet don’t take the steps to buy it.
Chapter 2 is an escalating series of mishaps as The Developer tries to close the deal but runs into one obstacle after another. Lindroth von Bahr builds the pressure like a ticking timebomb, where The Developer can barely keep his frustrations at bay. This might be the funniest section, especially when it comes to The Developer’s love/hate relationship with the insects he just can’t get rid of. Chapter 3 is the most lyrical, closing the film on a poetic note. Directed by Paloma Baeza, Chapter 3 brings us to the near future, where a flood as trapped the house on a slowly submerging island. Inside, the landlord – now a humanoid cat named Rosa (Susan Wokoma) – tries desperately to renovate the house despite her tenants (Helena Bonham Carter, Will Sharpe) not paying their rent. When Cosmos (Paul Kaye) shows up with his alternative lifestyle, Rosa comes to the end of her rope.
Where Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 explored how one’s happiness is tied to their home from a darker angle, Chapter 3 has a more optimistic outlook. It’s here where Walsh’s writing and Baeza’s direction suggest that changing is not always a bad thing – that a person’s well-being is not dependent on wood, nails, and glass. In the grand scheme of things, a house is nothing but temporary material. Breaking away from all that one knows is a scary thought, but by doing so they can open themselves to new possibilities and adventures. The final shot, which in other cases would be seen as devastation, is more about rebirth and discovery. Just like everything else, it is a moment of creative weirdness, but a pitch-perfect conclusion.
The House is not for everyone. The narrative does not offer easy answers and leaves plenty of ambiguity that some may find off putting. But if you are willing to take this trip and consider what the anthology is trying to say beyond its face value, you’ll find one of the most absorbing animated films in recent memory and one of the first solid entries of 2022.